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As your new columnist, I’m sorry everything is bad
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Stephanie Hayes, in better times.
Stephanie Hayes, in better times. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]
Published Mar. 20, 2020
Updated Mar. 21, 2020

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I am writing this from day six inside my house. I am on “vacation” and not supposed to be working yet, but I cannot watch one more episode of Love It or List It.

In the Before Times, I was an editor here, running our features department. For those who don’t know, being an editor is an exercise in tasks, in approving things and sitting in rooms. When you are an editor, there is always something to do.

But I decided to return to writing. I would be a columnist for the Times, specializing in humor and Tampa Bay life. I made a list of fun things I would write about. I posed for glamour shots, laughing into the middle distance without collapsing into my neck. It’s a technique I will share later in exclusive, subscriber-only content.

A week ago, my team bought me a cake to say bye, and we went out for a drink, and even then the restaurant seemed less busy. It was a portend of the cognitive dissonance that lay ahead. I am not talking about Tom Brady joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I had planned this break between the two jobs. My husband and I saved up to go to Spain, a bucket list trip.

Instead, I am here with all of you and away from all of you. No tasks. No old job. No new job. No Tampa Bay life.

Sports are gone. Restaurants and bars as we know them are gone. Theme parks and gyms are gone. As I write this, people are debating closing the beaches, taking away Tampa Bay’s time-honored tradition of sneering at tourists on beaches and proclaiming we know better than to go to beaches this time of year.

We are not to touch. We are not to gather. Our children cannot play with each other. We read dispatches from Italy warning us to take this seriously, which we must, because people are dying. That means that thousands are going to lose livelihoods. And we don’t know when this will end, how it will end, or if it will end.

I wrote a different introductory column, but it seems ridiculous now. Those photos seem ridiculous now. I have not worn makeup in six days. I have turned into Reek from Game of Thrones.

We will be a distance-learning family now, too, helping school my stepdaughter and balancing work at the same time. The school district assures us that CLEVER is very easy to use while you are on a conference call and trying to make macaroni and cheese as your hair falls out due to stress.

I have not seen my parents. They are older YOUNG AND VIBRANT but until a week ago, I was based in a newsroom full of brave reporters going into what we lovingly call “the field,” which is currently like a small intestine. I can’t risk making them sick.

The newsroom. My word, these people are working so hard to bring you the latest, most accurate information and answer your questions. And for some reason, the breaking news keeps happening at 3:49 a.m. I have watched them in awe, stuffing a thirteenth cornflake cookie into my face. My husband, also a journalist at the Times, cut his vacation and is working right now. He is an editor, so he is doing tasks.

I went for a walk on the Pinellas Trail yesterday. I scrolled through my phone, fingers throbbing where I had ripped off my hard shell manicure in a fit of anxiety. The Times had just announced the layoffs of 11 of my colleagues. And making matters worse, we don’t know how this turning point in history is going to change us, only that it will.

I cried a little. I asked the sky for something, someone, to save us. I don’t exactly know what. The newspaper? The sick? The hospital workers? The children? The bartenders? The lonely? The world?

I’m not sure how I fit into this moment, or how jokes and lighter-side columns work right now. I guess we’re going to find out together.

Last night, we walked to a tiny park down the street. A woman was walking her dog, a dopey-looking Boston Terrier. The dog was wearing a purple necktie. He looked like he had just come from a long day at the office in 1974.

Here’s something I know to be true. People still want to put neckties on dogs. We want to share a laugh over dogs wearing neckties, even from 6 feet away.

We kept moving and watched the sun go down. There was not one cloud.

• • •

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